Lives saved from burning Baton Rouge condominium, but family now struggling to find a place to stay _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- From left, D'Wayna Vicks, holds 5-month-old Al'Liyah McCormick, Gerriona Sims, 3, and Courtney Vicks holds Gerrielle Sims, 1. Dad was at work and not available for the photo. The family is essentially homeless now because a fire ripped through their apartment Wednesday.

After a daring civilian rescue of three children from the second-floor window of a burning apartment, a Baton Rouge family — Christmas presents in tow — is without a place to live.

Courtney Vicks, 22, her boyfriend and their three toddler girls are holed up with Vicks’ little sister in a one-bed Baton Rouge hotel room provided by the Red Cross for a week. Festively wrapped boxes and trash bags full of clothing are piled in the small room. Unable to live in their charred apartment, and without family to stay with, they’re hoping a church or good Samaritan can help.

Vicks’ sister, 14-year-old D’Wayna Vicks, said she woke to the smell of smoke Wednesday morning in an upstairs bedroom of a townhouse in the 12000 block of Province Place. Family members had left the residence just 20 minutes earlier, leaving D’Wayna Vicks’ two nieces, ages 5 months and 1 year, in her care. The 3-year-old was away with the girls’ mother.

“I just kept smelling something burning,” D’Wayna Vicks said. One of the babies began coughing. “Soon, I tried to go downstairs, (and) beaucoup black smoke rushed in!”

Panicked, Vicks grabbed both of the little girls and suspended them outside the window so they could breathe fresh air, while the teen yelled, “Help! Help! Help!”

“I started crying because I’m thinking no one wanted to come,” she said. Unable to descend the stairs, D’Wayna Vicks concocted a desperate plan to bundle the children in pillows and throw them out the window.

At the last minute, a neighbor appeared on the ground below. D’Wayna Vicks tossed each child to him, before jumping into the man’s arms herself. She salvaged some wrapped Christmas presents from the ground floor. A fallen faux Christmas tree was visible through the apartment’s broken window on Thursday. The apartment still smelled of smoke.

Baton Rouge fire officials said the blaze appears to have been started by a pot on the stove, but Courtney Vicks disputed that account. She said it must have been due to an electrical malfunction.

Her landlord did not install smoke alarms in the dwelling and hasn’t provided an alternate place to stay, she said. A manager at Jack in the Box, Courtney Vicks said she’s been unable to work since the fire. Her boyfriend was at work Thursday at an auto parts shop.

“I can’t go to work. I have to miss work, because I have to try to get the kids together and get food,” she said. “I don’t have food. It’s depressing and stressful.”

J. Cade, the organizer of a benefit concert Thursday night in Baton Rouge, said proceeds are to help families who have lost their homes in fires, but the Vicks’ fire happened too recently to be included.

Anyone wishing to help the Vicks may visit gofundme.com/jyfe3v2c.

Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.